So God has called you to a free life… do you believe that?
The Bible is full of stories and metaphors and explanations of what Jesus has done that speak of being set free. Jesus himself said the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many. In Hebrews it says he has died as a ransom to set us free from our sins…
The question I want to explore is how do we use that freedom? Indeed that is what Paul is speaking about in Galatians 5. He says, “don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom.” (I’m using the Message version today!). Indeed he says, “Use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows… Love others as you love yourself.”
So you can use your new found freedom to do whatever you want and actually end up destroying it… or you can grow in it by learning to love!
You see, we can have these amazing experiences of God at church which is great! But then as you face each week, it is the same temptations, the same mistakes, the same heart. The Apostle Paul puts the struggle this way in Romans 7:18-19 “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.”
I wonder if you can relate to that? You know you are loved by God and set free by God but you find yourself doing the same destructive things in your life…
Maybe it is drinking… you don’t like who you become or how much you consume and yet you find yourself almost powerless when trying to abstain… Maybe it is pornography. Two thirds of men and a fifth of women are regular watchers of pornography and yet despite the facts on what it does to us, our relationships and our minds, people keep logging in… Maybe it’s a temper that explodes at the slightest inconvenience… That is the human condition… we gratify our own desires… we are fundamentally selfish beings.
You know it is funny watching our 3 year old daughter Hope with her toys, especially since our 1 year old son Luca came on the scene. Hope has many good attributes but sharing is not one of them. The other day he came to grab one of the toys she was playing with and whack! You don’t need to teach a child that kind of response… it is like it comes naturally. Of course many of us never really grow up! We never get good at loving others and keep putting our own needs first.
We will look at some of the specifics in other posts, but broadly I want to speak on that movement from selfishness to love…
So what is this selfishness we all have within us?
Selfishness is being concerned excessively for our own advantage, pleasure, or welfare, regardless of others. It is the opposite of altruism or selflessness. It is what causes most relationship breakdowns, it is what leads to greed, a lot of immorality and vice. It is putting yourself constantly first!
In Galatians 5 this kind of selfishness is described as pursuing cheap, loveless sex, cut throat competition, having a brutal temper, having never satisfied wants and so on. And the concern of course is that it hurts us. When I act this way I know I don’t like who I am… but even more so it is the way our selfishness hurts others. I was talking to someone just this week about how their selfishness had left a trail of broken relationships and pain.
The opposite according to Paul is use our freedom to serve one another in love. In 1 Corinthians 13 we are told about this kind of love… it is patient and kind, not keeping records of wrongs… it doesn’t boast or envy, it is not self seeking, it doesn’t flare in anger.
Now when you present it like that… you would have to be some kind of psychopath to want to pursue a selfish life rather than one of love… So what is the issue? Well we find it so hard to do!
Well if this change is going to happen where does it start?
I believe it starts with God’s unconditional love. It can take a while even if we have been Christians for a long time, to realise that this is where it all starts. So much of our lives is dictated by a performance based acceptance… if we are good we will be loved!
The message of our faith completely turns this upside down! It is Jesus’ performance not ours that sets us free. You see Jesus sets us free by paying the ransom for our sins. God does this as an act of love. The foundation of our lives then becomes not our own performance… but the unconditional love of God.
There seems to be 2 ways to change a persons behaviour – Impose rules or change the heart. The Old Testament has lots of grace in it, but in some ways is an exploration of why the law is powerless to bring real transformation. The people of God are called to be a light to the nations and the means to that is they have the 10 commandments and so on. But there is a difference between knowing what to do and doing it. Indeed it says in the bible that sometimes the law telling us to not do something actually awakens the desire to do it! I remember being at Oxford University and seeing all the ‘Keep Off The Grass’ signs… well I just had to walk on the grass!
So you can hope for transformation by imposing rules… or you can be loved into a new life. Think of it with a teenager. Say the goal is that you don’t want them to be promiscuous – you want to protect them from the obvious harm that being over sexualised and potentially used, can cause. So you could have rules for your girl – no hanging out with boys, no parties, no time out on your own! But usually this is a recipe for disaster! The kid will rebel…
But what about loving them, giving them self worth through words of affirmation, unconditional love, lavish amounts of your time and presence… Here is my guess – they are not going to go looking for that affection elsewhere…
So God goes for the unconditional love… not that he doesn’t give us boundaries within which to flourish… but he knows that it doesn’t change the heart! He says I am going to set you free because I love you unconditionally and from that foundation you can then follow my Spirit into a life of love and personal transformation!
So quickly, what advice does Paul give to us if we want to live freely?
Firstly, serve others in love, that is how freedom grows!
I don’t know how else to say this, except to say it again… your freedom grows by serving others in love! As we learn from Jesus what love looks like and imitate it in our lives… freedom grows! We become more free not by giving into our selfish desires, but by turning outward in love! I wonder what opportunities will be presented to you this week to put this into practice? Putting someone else’s needs before your own? Mine will probably arrives at about 3am when one of the kids wakes up and needs something. Will I let my wife sleep or will I roll over and pretend to be asleep?
Secondly, live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit!
All through the New Testament we are told to be filled by the Spirit, to keep in step with the Spirit, to walk by the Spirit. Simply put that means allowing God to be involved in your thoughts, words and deeds. You see the way we live freely, is that we become so wrapped up in the presence of God that we intrinsically begin to act out of God’s character and nature.
Do you remember a couple of years ago the story of Casey Sullenberger and the Airbus passenger plane landing on the Hudson river? It was pretty cool. Some geese flew into the engine causing him to land immediately. He brought that baby down on the Hudson River, with no casualties…
If it had been a new pilot they say it would have ended in a catastrophe but Captian Sullenberger was so experienced as a pilot that his instincts kicked in and it came naturally to bring the plane down on the river. He didn’t have time to look things up in the Book of Instructions, and he certainly didn’t have time to run a calculation about what would do the most good for the most people. He had to act instinctively, and fortunately, those instincts had been trained by years of practice.
Now translate that into the challenges you face each day to either act selfishly or to act in love. What we want in our lives is to act and live so deeply within this story, keep so in step with God, that you instinctively choose love over selfishness when faced with challenges and temptation…
I remember being on a bucks night in the city a few years ago and as is often the case it ended with a bunch of the guys heading to a strip club. Now a group of the guys who were Christians even went with them, but not for a second did I even consider going along. Why? Well that’s not my story. That is not who I am. I have been set free by Jesus and I live out of a radically different story!
Finally, work it into every aspect of our lives.
Galatians 5:25-26 says, “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.”
Abraham Kuyper who was the Dutch Prime Minister from 1901-1905 famously said; “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, does not cry, Mine!”
Imagine your life is like a house with many rooms. When you first meet Christ every single one of those rooms need renovating. When Jesus comes in to your life, he doesn’t want to leave some of those rooms un-renovated. Instead he wants you to invite the presence of God in to transform every part of you! Starting with your heart and leading to your relationships, your work, your sexuality, what you do with your time, your resources and so on… Christ says “Mine!”
The risk is we hold back parts of our lives… but that has a way of infecting every other part of who we are. So work out the life of the Spirit and its implications into every aspect of our lives. That is how freedom grows…